Shaunna Burns isn’t a typical influencer — the North Carolina mom is going viral on TikTok for her short videos sharing tips for dealing with medical debt.Burns has become closely acquainted with debt, first by working as a debt collector and later facing bills related to her daughter’s medical condition.In just over a week, Burns surpassed 100,000 TikTok followers, and her videos have been liked more than a million times.Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Two weeks ago, Shaunna Burns got a phone call from a debt collector hounding her about bills from her daughter’s emergency medical care.
The collector had engaged in some “rude” tactics, she said, but the North Carolina mom was able to rebuff them because she herself previously worked in debt collection. Burns was frustrated, however, that collectors seemed to exploit the average person’s lack of knowledge on the subject. Aiming to spread the word, Burns opened TikTok and started filming.
“Hey, guys. So, here’s some quick debt collection pro tips,” she began, before outlining straightforward advice: Debtors can’t be sued for medical debt after a certain number of years. Predatory collectors might purchase expired debt and try to collect on it, so always ask collectors for a copy of your original invoice. It’s illegal for collectors to call debtors outside of normal business hours.
The video instantly started picking up likes, spurring Burns to record four more “debt pro tip” videos over the coming days. In one week, Burns went from less than a thousand TikTok followers to more than 50,000 — and then more than 100,000 by the end of the next week. One of her debt TikToks racked up over 400,000 likes. In total, Burns’ videos have now been liked more than a million times.
It’s an unlikely story of viral fame from an app that’s mostly known for lip-syncing teens and stunt comedy. Burns says she was shocked when her videos began taking off.
“It went crazy. I didn’t even expect it,” Burns told Business Insider. “It just shows how many people out there don’t know these legally-available-to-you facts.”
Burns’ expertise on medical debt dates back to her previous job at a collection agency in Florida, where she worked for four years. Burns said she ultimately quit because she felt the agency was engaging in “shady” tactics and collecting on expired medical debt, a common practice in the industry.
Her next encounter with the world of medical debt collection was far more harrowing. When Burns’ daughter was 16 years old, she was kidnapped and held captive by a Georgia man she had met online, before being rescued 13 months later. Since then, Burns said her daughter has required multiple hospital visits related to psychological trauma from the incident.
Navigating the red tape of medical costs and subsequent calls from debt collectors has been an irritating side effect of that ordeal, Burns said.
“The fact that there are people out there thinking debt equals deadbeat … debt doesn’t equal deadbeat. I’m not a deadbeat, and I have great credit, and I’m still having to deal with debt collection,” Burns said. “I literally spent hours a week fighting with insurance companies over stupid bills that shouldn’t have been charged … having to do all that is annoying and frustrating, and I thought if I could help one person [with the TikToks], it would be worth it.”
Burns gave Business Insider the rundown of her medical debt pro tips. Here’s what everyone navigating the world of medical debt should know: